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by Noel Streatfeild
Persephone book no:

15 16 17

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 781903155059

'I didn't know she wrote novels for grown-ups,' people remark about Noel Streatfeild - making those of us who have been secretly enjoying them in our mothers' editions, or in battered copies with the green Boots label, feel very lucky. Indeed, Noel had not thought of writing for children until her publisher persuaded to re-work the first of her adult novels as Ballet Shoes; this had sold ten million copies by the time of her death.

Saplings (1945) is also about children: a family with four of them, to whom we are first introduced in all their secure Englishness in the summer of 1939. 'Her purpose is to take a happy, successful, middle-class pre-war family - and then track in miserable detail the disintegration and devastation which war brought to tens of thousands of such families,' writes the psychiatrist Dr Jeremy Holmes in his Afterword. Her 'supreme gift was her ability to see the world from a child's perspective' and 'she shows that children can remain serene in the midst of terrible events as long as they are handled with love and openness.' She understood that 'the psychological consequences of separating children from their parents was glossed over in the rush to ensure their physical survival... It is fascinating to watch Streatfeild casually and intuitively anticipate many of the findings of developmental psychology over the past fifty years.'

Sarah Waters in the Guardian described Saplings as 'A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War, and quite shocking' and in 2004 it was made into a ten-part serial on BBC Radio 4.

Also available as a Persephone Classic and a Persephone e-book.


A 1938 fabric by Marion Dorn was chosen for Saplings. It is called 'Aircraft' and shows pairs of stylised pigeons in flight on a background of natural linen. It contains the imagery of aircraft being readied for war yet of birds freely in flight.

Picture Caption

WVS Clothing Exchange by Evelyn Gibbs, 1943 © Imperial War Museum

Read What Readers Say

Emma Milne-White, ‘The Bookseller’

As a fan of Noel Streatfeild’s children’s books, I came to Saplings – one of her fifteen novels for adults – with great interest. The novel starts with the Wiltshires enjoying a family holiday on the beach and soon we start to become familiar with each child, and understand a little about their parents, Alex and Lena. As the novel unfolds, their comfortable family life begins to unravel with the onset of the Second World War. Children have to be evacuated, schools changed, grief endured and new relationships formed. Lena struggles to cope with her changing role, and with the absence of her husband her own flaws are exposed. The idyllic and secure seaside holidays seem incredibly distant, almost dreamlike. Essentially this novel is about the disintegration of a middle­class family during the war. Streatfeild keeps you hooked with her aptitude for close, and often witty, observation of children, and her warmth for them shines through. I hope the wonderful Persephone Books will consider reprinting more of her novels.

Categories: Childhood Family Mothers Sex Widows Woman and Home WWII

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